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Dr. Kathleen M. Foley

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1944

Medical School

Cornell University Weill Medical College


New York

Career Path

Internal medicine: Neurology
Education: Teaching
Dr. Kathleen M. Foley


Dr. Kathleen M. Foley was appointed chief of the first designated pain service in a cancer center in the United States, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. This was the first designated pain service in a cancer center in the United States.


Kathleen M. Foley, M.D., has dedicated her career to the assessment and treatment of patients with chronic pain. Among the first American physicians to focus primarily on the topic and current theories and treatments, Dr. Foley has defined pain syndromes and causes, developed scientific guidelines for pain management, and conducted pharmacological studies. Her work has made her a national and international advocate for better palliative care for the dying.

Dr. Foley received her medical degree from Cornell University in 1969, where she was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society. She completed her medical internship and neurology residency at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center and her fellowship in neuro-oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Since 1974, in conjunction with teaching and research positions at Cornell University Weill Medical College, Dr. Foley has served as an attending neurologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York City. She is currently professor of neurology, neuroscience, and clinical pharmacology at Cornell and chair of the Sloan Kettering Society in Pain Research. In 1981, under Dr. Foley's leadership, Memorial Sloan-Kettering opened the country's first designated pain service in a cancer center. She has served as the center's chief since its beginnings. Dr. Foley also serves as the medical director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Supportive Care Program. Begun at about the same time as the pain center, this program was designed to provide continuity of care for cancer patients at home. By using a nurse-centered model, the program provides 24-hour supervision for dying patients with significant pain problems. As Dr. Foley has written, "Pain is one of the most feared consequences of cancer—and with good reason. Studies in the U.S. have shown that at least one-third of all cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or other anti-tumor treatments and two-thirds of those with advanced cancer suffer significant discomfort. Providing relief is vital not only as an end in itself but also to improve the patient's prospects for survival. Pain can erode a patient's willingness to continue treatment, even to live."

The increased understanding of pain's effect on a patient's desire to live brought Dr. Foley to the forefront of the movement against physician-assisted suicide. In 2002, Dr. Foley co-edited the book, The Case Against Suicide: For the Right to End of Life Care, to help bring attention to patients' need for better management of chronic pain rather than resorting to euthanasia, also sometimes called "mercy killing."

Dr. Foley is the past director of the Project on Death in America of the Open Society Institute, whose mission is to transform the culture of dying in the United States. In April 1996, Dr. Foley testified before Congress on the medical issues related to physician-assisted suicide. Describing the imperative for better palliative care, Dr. Foley said, "Palliative care affirms life, and regards dying as a normal process; neither hastens nor postpones death; provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms; integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care; offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death; and offers a support system to help the family cope during the patient's illness and their own bereavement." Dr. Foley has chaired three expert committees on cancer and palliative care for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr. Foley has published more than 290 scientific papers and edited seven books. She serves on the editorial board or as a reviewer on over two dozen medical journals. In 1992, Dr. Foley received the American Cancer Society Distinguished Service Award. For her national and international efforts in the treatment of patients with cancer pain, Dr. Foley has been elected to the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences.